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J Comp Neurol. 1993 Nov 8;337(2):253-66.

Prenatal exposure to ethanol alters the postnatal development and transformation of radial glia to astrocytes in the cortex.

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Research Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Iowa City, Iowa 52246.


Postmitotic neurons migrate from a zone(s) near the ventricles to the neocortex. During this migration, neurons associate with radial glia. After serving their role as guides for neuronal migration, the radial glia transform into astrocytes. Prenatal exposure to ethanol causes abnormal neuronal migration. We examined the effects of gestational exposure to ethanol on radial glia and astrocytes. Radial glia were stained immunohistochemically with the antibody RAT-401, and astrocytes were labeled with an antibody directed against glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). The subjects were the offspring of rats fed an ethanol-containing liquid diet (Et), pair-fed a liquid control diet (Ct), or fed chow and water (Ch). During the first postnatal week, radial glial fibers (in Et-treated rats and controls) stretched from the ventricular surface through the developing cerebral wall to the pial surface. In the Et-treated rats, the radial processes were less dense and more poorly fasciculated than they were in the Ch- and Ct-treated rats. Moreover, by postnatal day (P) 5, there was a significant reduction in RAT-401 immunostaining in the Et-treated rats, particularly in the superficial cortex. A similar reduction in control rats did not begin until P10. In all three treatment groups, GFAP-immunoreactive astrocytes were in the cortex throughout the period from P1 to P45. In neonates, GFAP-positive cells were distributed in the marginal zone (layer I) and the intermediate zone (the white matter). The number of GFAP-positive cells in the cortical plate increased steadily with time so that, by P26, GFAP-immunoreactive astrocytes were distributed evenly through all cortical laminae. Interestingly, between P5 and P12, the number of astrocytes was significantly greater in Et-treated rats than in controls. Thus prenatal exposure to ethanol induces the premature loss of RAT-401-positive processes and the precocious increase in GFAP immunostaining. These ethanol-induced changes in glial development indicate that ethanol accelerates the transformation of radial glia into astrocytes. Moreover, the ethanol-induced premature degradation of the network of radial glial fibers may underlie the migration of late-generated neurons to ectopic sites.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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